Be unafraid to question the orthodox way of doing things, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean told public officers yesterday, as he urged them to cultivate innovation until it becomes second nature.
"We must find better ways to deliver public services before we get disrupted by technology, the market, or by what our citizens expect," he said.
In providing the services, they need to work across government agencies, with industry and the public, he added, in his address to 600 public servants at the annual Public Service Leadership Programme dinner held at the Shangri-la Hotel.
DPM Teo, who is also Minister-in-charge of the Civil Service, suggested three crucial areas when striving to provide tip-top service.
One, policies have to be executed well, because that is how the public "perceives us and perceives the policies that we develop".
He said policy development does not stop when execution begins, adding that public officers should be prepared to explain to stakeholders why certain trade-offs had to be made in crafting certain policies and what mitigating measures had been taken.
Two, public servants have to find better ways to serve the public, and public agencies must put the needs of their consumers first and pool resources.
This could include ways that might seem disruptive, said DPM Teo, citing the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office working with agencies to hasten the adoption of technology solutions.
"Technology is offering us new ways to disrupt our processes and improve the way we serve the public. The public's experience with technology also means they expect us to adopt technology faster to serve them better."
But providing better services could also mean agencies or public servants taking the initiative to address issues, even if they might not normally be responsible for them.
He cited officers of the National Environment Agency's (NEA) South West Regional Office making house visits during cases of high-rise littering, instead of just issuing summonses.
It led them to uncover cases of families or individuals needing aid, DPM Teo added. The NEA officers then worked with agencies like the Social Service Office and welfare organisations to help them.
In delivering help, the officers could also help address the root problem in the littering, he said.
Third, public servants have to take pride in and ownership of what they do.
Said DPM Teo: "We need to have a more complete, up-to-date and multi-agency view of what is going on. This goes beyond... a 'no wrong door policy'; it is more like a common hall where agencies can work together to tackle an issue and its related challenges."
He likened public service to "multiple Ironman races" - a long-distance triathlon comprising swim, bike and run segments.
"We can do this as a team... and we can all do better when we leverage each other's strengths and motivate each other."
At the dinner, about 100 officers were appointed to the Public Service Leadership Programme, launched in 2013 to develop specialists in such fields as security and economics. More than 800 are now on the programme.
They work with officers from the Administrative Service to lead the public service.
Head of the Civil Service Leo Yip, sharing DPM Teo's views, said the public service must "rise above narrow organisational interests".
Newly appointed Mr Yip said agencies need to find opportunities to collaborate instead of guarding their turf. Such teamwork is vital to the "whole of government" effort in building a better Singapore.
"We must see ourselves as part of that collective, in giving directions, in taking responsibility and in being accountable," he said.